Anxious Objects:
Willie Cole's Favorite Brands

Artist's Influences: African Art

Found on page 3 in the Educator Packet (link at right).

African Art refers to art created across the entire continent of Africa, spanning all time periods, societies, and political borders.

Cole bases much of his artwork on the idea of the power contained in African artwork by imbuing pieces with double meanings or using transformations to turn one object into another: the significance behind a mask, a sculpture, or art on the body shows the spiritual power in all of these art works.

African masks inspire much of Cole’s art work. African masks are given animalistic qualities to serve as simplified yet specific representations in ceremonies. Example:

Tji wara [or: chiwara]: a mask that represents an antelope, signifying the deity of agriculture who taught the Bamana people of Mali how to farm. The tji wara mask is worn during ritual ceremonies to call back the spirit of the tji wara. (see Cole’s Sears Ross tji wara).

Cole also uses repeated patterns that mimic the patterns on African cloth. The symbols and signs used on cloth are repeated decorations that can also carry significant meanings.

Shields are both functional and aesthetic. Shields act as a form of identification and as an instrument of protection. Cole uses the idea of shields as a marker of identification and an aesthetic object in his series of Domestic Shields.

Scarification is a form of art that is displayed on the body by making patterned cuts in the skin that heal as visible scars. Cole uses the idea of scarification in much of his artwork, specifically in the symbolism of the iron scorch mark. Scarification is a significant part of initiation rites and display, religious beliefs as well as acting as markers of identity. (See G.E. Mask and Scarification, Man, Spirit, Mask, and Silex Man, Ritual in the exhibition.)

African sculpture takes many forms that range from the sculptural qualities of masks to the polished wood female fertility figures to fetishes, objects that are given specific spiritual power and covered in different materials that are also considered powerful (see Cole’s House and Field). While these objects all look extremely different from each other, they all demand a similar type of respect and are viewed as objects of religious power.

Artist's Biography

Artist's Influences

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